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Best budget gear for your bedroom studio: Recording for cheap

Believe it or not, putting together a bedroom recording studio isn’t really that complicated, and it certainly doesn’t have to be expensive. There are so many fantastically affordable products on the market that finding the best budget gear for a bedroom studio offers more than a few options.

All you need is a computer (analog recording is a separate beast!), an interface, playback source (monitors or headphones), a microphone, cabling, and some sounds to record. And depending on what type of music you’re looking to create you might not even need a mic. For the purposes of this article it’s assumed you already have a computer tuned for audio production.

In this article “budget” means anything under $500. But you’ll find that most of the options here fall well under that. With a few simple pieces of equipment, you’ll be able to create broadcast-quality tracks in the comfort of your own space. This is some of the best budget gear for a bedroom studio.

Interface

The interface is the heart and soul of pretty much every studio these days. The simpler models usually only include preamps, conversion, and some monitoring control, but the more robust models also offer expandable I/O for integrating other hardware.

When choosing an interface there are a number of features to consider – with quality of converters and preamps being paramount.

Best Interface for Conversion: Universal Audio Apollo Arrow

universal audio apollo arrow audio interface
Best Interface for Conversion
Universal Audio Apollo Arrow
Universal Audio makes some of the best interfaces in the world. It features Unison preamps and stereo I/O as well as UA’s vaunted plugin suite.
Pros
Clean and clear preamps
Can run UA’s exclusive plugins
Stereo I/O adds versatility
Cons
Expensive
Doesn’t work with every computer
Only two channels

Universal Audio has some of the best conversion in any price range, and for a smaller project or bedroom studio the Arrow is a versatile interface that also has Unison preamps.

Stereo I/O means you can even record sources like drum overheads, stereo acoustic guitar, piano, and more. It also comes with the ability to run UA’s terrific plug-in suite.

Best Interface for Preamps: Solid State Logic SSL2+

solid state logic ssl2 plus audio interface
Best Interface for Preamps
Solid State Logic SSL2+
SSL’s venture into interfaces is a hit with two channels, great preamps and conversion, and expandable I/O.
Pros
Clean SSL preamps
Solid converstion
Expandable I/O
4K setting adds harmonics
Cons
None

SSL is probably the last company to come to mind when talking about the best budget gear for a bedroom studio. But with the release of this model you can now have authentic SSL sound for an extremely affordable price.

It comes with two channels of high quality preamps and conversion you would expect from one of the premier names in the history of professional audio. It also offers more expandable I/O than other interfaces in its class, meaning you will no doubt find a variety of ways to integrate it with your other gear.

Runner Up: Audient iD22

audient id22 audio interface
Runner Up best interface for preamps
Audient iD22
Audient has been steadily growing their appeal in consoles and interfaces. This is an affordable and great-sounding interface under $500.
Pros
Great conversion
iD preamps
Flexible I/O
Expandable
Cons
There are comparable interfaces at same price if you need more channels

Featuring the same preamps as their console line, the iD line has some of the best built-in preamps of any interface in the sub $500 category. The iD22 also has stellar converters, flexible I/O, and expandability via ADAT.

Microphones

When setting up a small bedroom or project studio, microphone selection is key. There usually isn’t much budget available, so it’s important to choose mics that are versatile and provide the sonic characteristics you need in your productions.

Best large diaphragm condenser microphone: Warm Audio WA-14

warm audio wa-14 large diaphragm condenser microphone
Best large diaphragm condenser microphone
Warm Audio WA-14
Everyone needs a 414, but not everyone can afford one. With this model you get the most useful elements of it at half the price.
Pros
Great alternative fi you can’t afford an AKG C414
3 polar patterns
2 levels of pad
Cons
Not as many polar patterns as the AKG model

A great workhorse condenser mic is a must-have. With it you can record vocals, guitars, drums, piano – and if you find one you like enough get a second to record in stereo.

The AKG 414 is one of the most versatile mics ever, and this model from Warm Audio is a great, reasonably affordable alternative.

Best small diaphragm condenser microphone: Sennheiser e614

sennheiser e614 small diaphragm condenser microphone
Best small diaphragm condenser microphone
Sennheiser e614
The E614 is one of the best inexpensive small-diaphragm condensers. It’s got a clear, open sound with good transient detail.
Pros
Affordable SDC
Good transient detail
Great for acoustic guitars and drum overheads
Cons
Other options at the price point

Small diaphragm condensers are great on sources with fast transients like drum overheads, pianos, and acoustic guitars. This model from Sennheiser flies under the radar, but it’s got a clear, open sound that plays well with all kinds of preamps that never gets harsh or brittle.

Best dynamic microphone: Shure SM57

shure sm57 dynamic microphone
Best dynamic microphone
Shure SM57
The most popular mic on the planet earned the title fora reason. It’s durable, sounds great, and can be used on any source.
Pros
One of the best dynamic mics on the planet
Only $100
Durable
Cons
Midrange focus might be too much for certain sources

Is there any doubt that if you can only choose one dynamic microphone the ubiquitous choice is the SM57? There’s a reason. It sounds great on pretty much any source you throw at it, and it is built like a tank.

You could even find one used and have some budget left over to buy another mic!

Headphones

A good pair of headphones is a must. They come in two main types: open or closed back. Open can be preferable for mixing, while a closed back design is great for tracking as there is less bleed.

Best closed-back headphones: AKG K553 MKII

akg 553 mkii closed back hedphones
Best closed-back headphones
AKG K553 MKII
Closed-back headphones provide the perfect type of isolation for mixing. These are comfortable and have a great sound quality.
Pros
Closed-back design provides good isolation for tracking
Comfortable
Cons
Not as good as open design for mixing

Blending the best of both worlds, this model from AKG provides the isolation of a closed back design with the feel of an open back. They offer comfort, hi-fi sound, and durability all at an affordable price point.

Runner up best headphones: Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro

beyerdynamic dt770 pro headphones
Runner up best headphones
Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro
Beyerdynamic headphones are some of the best. These are affordable, crazy comfortable, and have a very wide frequency range.
Pros
Comfortable for long sessions
5Hz-35kHz frequency range
Affordable for sound and quality
Cons
Not the best choice for mixing on headphones

It doesn’t get more comfortable than these. They also have an insane frequency response of 5Hz-35kHz! The padded ear pieces are perfect for long sessions, and you’ll find these in professional and project studios alike.

Best open-back headphones: Beyerdynamic DT990

beyerdynamic dt990 pro open back headphones
Best open-back headphones
Beyerdynamic DT990
These open-back cans are perfect for long mixing sessions. Padded ear foams add comfort, and they have a great frequency balance and stereo image.
Pros
Great for mixing
Comfortable to wear for long sessions
Good frequency balance and stereo image
Cons
Not as good as closed-back design for tracking

Beyerdynamic makes some of the best professional audio headphones, and this is a fantastic choice if you’re looking for a pair of open-back cans. They’re really comfortable that make long sessions a non-issue, extremely durable, and have a very broad frequency response.

Outboard Gear

Integrating outboard gear into your setup can allow for some great options in blending the best of the digital and analog worlds. The choices here are all rack units, as 500 series didn’t fall under the “less than $500” category.

Best outboard preamp: Golden Age Project Pre-73 MkIII

golden age project pre-73 mkiii preamp
Best outboard preamp
Golden Age Project Pre-73 MkIII
This half rack unit has multiple ways to shape the Neve sound it provides. It can even be rackmounted with an additional mounting kit.
Pros
Neve preamp sound on a budget
Air switch gives good top end
Preamp and DI combo
Warm sound
Cons
Not the best choice if you don’t want a thick preamp sound

Outboard preamps provide a different flavor from those that come bundled with interfaces. The standard preamps in interfaces these days generally offer a really clean signal without much (if any) coloration, but you might want to add a little analog grit.

The Pre-73 is a fantastic, affordable Neve 1073-style half rack unit that can provide great alternative tonal options.

Best outboard compressor: Klark Teknik 1176-KT

klark teknik 1176-kt FET compressor
Best outboard compressor
Klark Teknik 1176-KT
Who doesn’t want an 1176 at their disposal? This is an affordable way to get one into your rack that has the same control options as the original.
Pros
Midas transformers
Has “nuke” option like original 1176
Affordable alternative to more expensive models
Cons
Doesn’t sound as good as other 1176 hardware models
Buy From

If you have to choose just one compressor, you can never go wrong with an 1176-style. This model includes Midas transformers as well as every ratio the 1176 is famous for – including “Nuke” mode.

It’s fast time constants make it useful on virtually any source – even on busses and groups! You won’t find a more affordable hardware alternative.

Best outboard EQ: Golden Age Project EQ-73

golden age project eq-73 equalizer
Best outboard EQ
Golden Age Project EQ-73
Warm is the name of the game here. Each of the three bands can be turned on or off, adding to it’s versatility. It’s a small, half-rack unit that fits in your rack or neatly on your desktop.
Pros
Model of the EQ section of the Neve 1073 channel strip
Each of three bands are switchable
Cons
Q is not adjustable

Golden Age Project comes up a lot in the best budget gear for a bedroom studio conversation. You can put the EQ section of the infamous Neve 1073 channel strip into your rig with this half rack unit.

The three bands provide all of the character of this style of equalizer in a very small footprint. It’s a simple but powerful piece of gear that is just as useful in tracking as it is in mixing.

Runner up best outboard EQ: Klark Teknik EQP-KT

klark teknik eqp-kt pultec style equalizer
Runner up best outboard EQ
Klark Teknik EQP-KT
Pultecs have a magic that no other EQ does. If you’re looking for an affordable model to put in your rack this is worth a look. It features the same controls as the original.
Pros
Affordable Pultec-style EQ
Custom-wound Midas transformers
Works in a lot of mix scenarios
Cons
Specific use isn’t best choice if you can only afford one hardware EQ

This is by far the most affordable Pultec-style EQ in a rack format. There is no sacrifice in quality though, as it comes with custom-wound Midas transformers and stays faithful to the tube topology that was so beloved in the original.

It’s got many uses and can beef up your bass, and punch to drums, or add weight to your stereo mix.

Best MIDI controller: Akai Professional MPK249

Akai Professional MPK249
Best MIDI controller
Akai Professional MPK249
A great MIDI controller for a bedroom studio. Multiple ways to control your sound, versatile key functions, and comes in versions with different key counts.
Pros
Keys are semi-weighted, velocity-sensitive, and have after touch
Can be used with expression and sustain pedals
MPC pad, knobs, and fader controls
Multiple key versions available
Cons
Might be too large for some spaces
Pricey if your budget is tight
No onboard sounds

A good MIDI controller is an invaluable accessory for a bedroom studio. They let you play virtual instruments more accurately and with more articulation. You can also use certain models to set parameters in your DAW like automation and control transport. Some even have their own onboard sounds.

The MPK249 is a 49-key model that offers a host of control features. Semi-weighted keys with after touch give you a more realistic feel, and velocity-sensitivity lets you play with dynamics. It has expression pedal and sustain connectivity, which really brings those piano plugins to life.

As for controls, it has eight knobs, eight faders, and 16 MPC-style pads across four banks. They’re backlit and also velocity-sensitive. You also get pitch and modulation wheels as well as some DAW integration.

It’s size is good for a bedroom studio, but if you want more or less keys Akai Professional offers different models to choose from. Controlling your virtual instruments has never been easier.

FAQ?

Do you need outboard gear for a home studio?

Of course not! Outboard gear has its place, but if you are working in digital audio plugins are more than adequate – even if you’re using the stock plugins in your DAW.

What do I need in my home studio?

You don’t need much gear to set up your home studio. The basic elements are a recording system, these days a computer, and an audio interface. You’ll need something for playback, whether it’s monitors or headphones.

You’ll need a way to capture sounds, so at least one microphone is recommended. A few cables connect everything together and you’re ready to roll!

You can get more elaborate with things by getting outboard gear and different types of microphones. But if you’re just starting out you’ll want to learn how to use the basic gear, discover what else you’d like, and work your way up from there.

How do I build a home studio on a budget?

It’s never been easier to build a nice home studio setup with limited funds. No matter what gear you need, even if you’re starting from the ground up, you can find quality equipment at affordable prices.

You can always upgrade later as your skills increase. Focus on the basics, learn proper techniques, and move forward!

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